Friday, July 1, 2011

Gardening in Oklahoma: Plants Behaving Badly

Each year we are given new lessons from our garden and each spring we gather together everything we’ve learned from the years before and feel certain that This Year will be the one where it all works: pests avoid the temptation of tender green leaves and succulent produce; mildews, rusts, molds and spots retreat to the pages of gardening how-to books and hungry nocturnal creatures turn up their noses at the bounty laid out before them and instead forage outside the garden borders.  Each year one problem is addressed and another one (or two, or three) pop up to take its place, like a hole in a dike that sprouts up in a new spot after you’ve put your finger in to plug it.

This year is no different.  There have been new lessons complete with late-night studying and unsettling pop quizzes.  For the first time, stink bugs are draining the life from our tomatoes; a mysterious blight is causing the melons to wilt and then die (and it's not squash-borers which is what did them in last year) and we can't produce a zucchini to save our lives.  These were all formerly reliable growers for us.

To further the troubles, we are getting no help from the weather this season which is unbearably hot, disturbingly dry.  Clouds form and storms sweep onto the radar - we can see the towering brilliant-white and gray thunderheads off towards the horizon - only to bypass us and drench our lucky neighbors.   From an early and abundant start of kale, mustard, collards, rainbow chard and broccoli, the garden wears an exhausted expression.  Just let us burn up and die in peace.

Thai basil soaking up the rays.
One bright spot again this year is basil.  Heat-loving, forgiving, fragrant basil.  Friend to man and bee.  We are growing the Italian, sweet and Thai varieties and all of them are lush and reaching high as if trying to get even closer to the heat of the sun.  Including basil in the garden is a lesson learned from that very first year of Oklahoma gardening.  If there is nothing else from this growing season in my freezer come fall, there will at least be pesto.

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